I was reviewing my notes from 2014, and one of the first few hundred books that I’ve ever read jumped out at me.
Let Me Show You How I Developed Insane Levels Of Self-Discipline
In order to survive in today's world, you have to get REALLY good at suffering. There's a way, actually many ways, to become tougher. And I can teach them to you. You can thank me later.
This is from when I was just starting my reading “journey” and Wayne formed the basis for a lot of my later thinking. He was one of the most special people to me on the entire planet, and I wish that I had gotten the chance to speak with him at least once. I’ll settle instead, for the fact that he has most definitely spoken to me.
The book follows Wayne for a year as he reads and interprets each verse of the Tao Te Ching.
So without anything further from me, here’s Wayne’s wisdom:
#1: Nature doesn’t create storms that never end
As difficult as it might be for you and I hear, our lives are of very little cosmic importance. We are another chain in the process of evolution which will eventually die out when our star explodes and what remains of our solar system returns to lifelessness.
So what are we running around worrying about?
What do we think is so goddamn important that we have to waste our precious energy on things which have no value to ourselves or others?
Every difficult that you will ever face will end. And so will you. And so will everyone and everything else.
So let go.
#2: Simply allow things like performance and function to happen
Forcing things to happen does NOT work as we tend to expect.
It adds nothing to our lives to wear ourselves down by pushing and pushing until we reach our breaking point.
Alternatively, relax and let everything happen.
By all means, put in effort. Find something you care about and then give it everything you have. But then you have to release the tension and let go.
Don’t force, just allow.
Paradoxically…that’s the sweet spot where our best performances often happen.
#3: Luxuriate in the simplicity of the Tao
Life is very simple. It’s we who tend to complicate it with our behaviour and damaging thoughts.
Realize that you don’t have to DO anything. Your existence is a fact of the world in which you live, and you will continue to exist until you someday don’t.
That’s all there is to it.
But there’s beauty in this simplicity and you might do well to appreciate from time to time how little the universe expects from you.
Everything is simple, and everything is proceeding along at its own pace. There is not one molecule in the entire universe that’s out of place.
Have you ever seen a wave that’s misshapen? A poorly-designed cloud?
#4: Nothing is truly named or described
I try not to be overly pretentious when talking about books, but it’s hard for me to mention Wittgenstein without feeling that way! His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is widely regarded as one of the most influential books of all time. Certainly in the history of language.
Basically, none of the words we use accurately represent reality or what is actually going on in the reality that we experience.
For you see, “water” was “water” before we ever had the word “water” to describe it.
It has an interiority that we will never get to experience, and an essence that defies all description. So nothing that we see or experience can ever be truly named or described. That includes God, the material world, other people, ourselves.
Wayne knew this more than almost anyone.
#5: Trust in the perfect wisdom of the Tao
When you see that everything is Tao, and that it includes you and everything in your conscious experience, it becomes easier to trust in the natural order of things. You see that you can never get away from it, even if you wanted to, because it IS you, and there is nothing BUT you.
So trust that things will work out as they should. There is not a single molecule in the entire universe that is out of place. There is nothing to worry about, strive for, compete for. It is all you, and it all unfolds as it should.
It also means that you have complete freedom, as you always did. As Nietzsche says, God is dead, and we can now create our own values.
#6: Scarcity doesn’t exist within the Tao
There is always enough. You are enough, you have enough, everyone else has enough, and the universe itself is enough.
It’s literally an insane thought to believe that you need something that you don’t have. If you really needed it, you’d have it already, because the Tao exists in absolute perfection. This is one of the most difficult things to realize, but also one of the most important in your entire life, inasmuch as it is truly yours.
#7: In every moment, you have a choice
Where does free will enter the picture in a universe with only one universal suchness? I believe that in the only sense that matters, our conscious experience, that we have free will.
At the molecular level, it gets more complicated and I don’t think we have as much control over our actions as we’d like to believe. The particular molecules that make up the universe are going to go the way they want to, and the ones that happen to form “you” are just along for the ride.
But…in a very real and important sense…we control as much as we need to, and at the macro level, our decisions are more or less our own. That means that what we decide to do matters, and we have an inalienable freedom to choose what is best for us.
In every moment, that option is always available to us, but we need to be fully awake in order to make use of it. The choice, as it always has been, is yours.
#8: The cure to a life of unrest is to choose stillness
Alan Watts used to say that the meaning of life is simply to be alive. It’s so plain, and so simple, and so obvious. And yet most people rush around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
I see it everywhere, and a lot of these people try to push their value systems on me as well. But I’m not buying into it, and I hope I never do. I live with a sense of urgency and purpose that is just missing from many of those people’s lives. That being said, I will never do what they do and try to change them, as they have tried to change me. It’s none of my business how they choose to spend their one and only life.
But my answer is to choose a life of stillness and peace. It’s available to every one of us, and at all times.
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#9: There is a time for everything
There are some points in your life where you will be in pain, others where you will be miserable, and still others where you unimaginably happy. All these states occur in people who are alive on this planet. Struggling against this fact is just another source of pain.
When this fact most often enters my conscious thought is while I’m at the gym. I know that the extra time that I spend under all that weight, what Arnold calls “the pain period”, will result in new muscle growth. It’s the extra reps that most people skip because they’re afraid of the pain and of giving up their comfort. But I know that that time will pass, and I will also live through the period where I will feel a sense of accomplishment with respect to the level of muscularity that I’ve gained.
What you’re feeling now will pass, and new sensations will arise. This is just what happens during a human life.
#10: If you realize that you have enough, then you are truly rich
I won’t belabor this point because I don’t feel like it deserves a whole lot of our attention.
Modern advertising infects us with the desire to acquire more stuff, and it manufactures needs where there weren’t any before.
Other people don’t help either because they think it’s some big competition between you and them to see who dies with the most stuff.
But you can escape this trap simply by realizing that what you have is already enough. You are rich.
#11: For you to know weakness, you must have once felt strength
Everything in the universe contains its opposite, and strength is created through weakness.
Just as black and white support each other, good and bad create each other, and hard and soft complete each other, strength and weakness are two potentialities within you. If you feel weak now, it’s only because part of you knows what strength is.
#12: The Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone
This is one of my favorite sayings from the Tao Te Ching, and it’s one that I think about most often. For something to be “done” requires a doer and an external object. The Tao has nothing external to it, and yet everything that happens occurs within its framework. Everything that has ever happened has existed within the universe, but there is no one and nothing who has ever “done it”.
Of course, I’m not trying to convince you of these ideas. I simply want you to play with them and see what you can do with them. See if they make sense to you, and see if they might somehow be true.
#13: Everything added really only serves to complicate things
Speak fewer words, own less stuff, waste less of what you use.
Simplicity has elegance and beauty to it.
Leave no powerful words unsaid, but don’t add anything unnecessary to your life.
#14: You can not be killed or even harmed
As a person, you can be said to exist. But as part of the universe, your identity IS this universe. You are something that the whole universe is “doing” in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing. Whatever happens to the universe will “happen” to you, and the universe can never be destroyed, because there is nothing external to it to do the destroying.
Thus, you can never be killed or really damaged in any meaningful way. Anything can happen to the ego that you call “you” but this very ego is illusory. Feel the power and freedom that this gives you, and use it to make the world a more beautiful place in which to live.
#15: The Tao doesn’t want or expect anything from you
What could the universe possibly expect from you? How can you please or displease it? Meaning yourself?
There is nothing to strive for, nothing to achieve, nothing to say that you’ve lived your life better than anyone else. There is just existence, and it can be either a joy or a nuisance. The choice is yours, and the only possible thing that the universe might ever ask of you is an answer to this question:
How will I choose to live in this very moment?
#16: Simplify and take on difficulties while they are still small
Difficulties, when confronted early, never arise. Think about detecting cancer early, or saving for retirement. Less these things go, and you’ll find yourself poor and cancer-ridden in your old age. Not that there’s anything “wrong” with that, since there’s nothing “wrong” with the universe.
Except I think that subjectively, most people would rather not have cancer and would rather be able to afford the odd tropical vacation.
So by confronting these things when you can, you decrease the probability that they will grow into unmanageable problems.
Getting a checkup at the doctor’s office and putting away 10% of whatever you earn is so much easier than chemo and visiting food banks.
#17: Every individual action is simple
How can you “do” a project? Poorly, if at all.
But what you can do is the very next simplest action.
You can take one small step towards the completion of the project or the accomplishment of your goal.
Building a business is difficult, but finding a marketing lead’s phone number is easy. You then pick up the phone, which is easy. You dial the number, which is easy, and then you speak with that person, which is easy. From there, he becomes a customer, who tells his friends, who tells their friends, who are now your best and most profitable customers.
Getting 100 customers is probably difficult.
But finding someone’s phone number is quite simple.
#18: Who can there be to defeat if you see yourself in everyone?
Can you really be in competition with anyone if the entire universe is you?
Why all this comparing yourself to others, and trying to convince yourself that you’re a little smarter, richer, more “evolved” than someone else? Or any of these INTERMINABLE things over which people fight and argue.
All of that garbage can just fall away now.
Myself, I’m not in competition with anyone. I hope we all make it.
All the best,
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Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.